"Toy Story 2" is that rarest of movie animals, the sequel that actually surpasses the classic original-- and I say this as someone who thought that "Toy Story" was the best of the Disney resurgence of the last decade. Comparison to "Godfather II" and "The Empire Strikes Back" are not overstating the case.
Buzz, Woody, Mr. Potato Head, and the gang are back in an adventure that lives up to expectations, and character development that surpasses them. It turns out that Woody is a very valuable collectible, and an unscrupulous toy store owner, Al of Al's Toy Barn, (Wayne Knight of "Jurassic Park" and "Seinfeld") steals him from Andy's mom's yard sale when Woody attempts to rescue a discarded toy. Al now has a complete set of "Woody's Roundup," including cowgirl Jessie, (Joan Cusack) and prospector Sneaky Pete (Kelsey Grammer). He plans to sell them to a Tokyo toy museum. Woody is awestruck to find out he is famous, and also likes his new friends, who will be put back into dark storage if he escapes.
And as Sneaky Pete reminds him, soon Andy will outgrow his toys and discard him, so why go back? Why not be adored-- though from afar-- forever?
Meanwhile, Buzz leads an expedition to rescue Woody, but when they reach Al's Toy Barn, he is arrested by another Buzz Lightyear, who is still unaware (as Buzz was in the original) that he is a toy.
Every second of "Toy Story 2" is perfection. The 3D animation by Pixar keeps getting better, and here, even the human characters look good. The movie is full of fun action and ingenious internal gags, like a gut busting Barbie parody, an "Empire Strikes Back" subplot with the new Buzz and his nemesis Zurg, and a great black and white "Howdy Doody" style TV show starring Sheriff Woody.
The movie also hits one of my personal pet peeves-- collectors who take the fun out of everything from baseball cards to GI Joes.
But it is the ethical dilemma that Woody faces is what raises this series to new heights. There is a depth of character in "Toy Story 2" that is rare even in movies made for an adult audience. The story is unexpectedly moving, and explores the meaning of friendship and duty. A touching Randy Newman song will likely net him his first Oscar after a dozen nominations. Once again, Tim Allen and Tom Hanks are great as Buzz and Woody.
"Toy Story 2" even performs a public service. In its first weekend, it blew the inane "Pokemon" phenomenon nearly off the charts, and I'll bet that this will be the movie kids will want to see again-- and so will their parents. This is simply one of the year's best.